getting around town

You know you have arrived in Argentina once you see sculptures of tango dancers made out of rose quartz gleaming from inside display cases at the airport.  (Rhodocrosite is the national stone of Argentina).  And as cheesy as those souvenirs may have been, we knew as soon as we started sauntering through the Aeroparque Jorge Newbery that this Buenos Aires thing was going to be chic - chic - chic!  The stylish and elegant yet modern vibe was perfectly evidenced by the tweaked “Lilac Satin Groove" who sat in a cafe snacking on a medialuna with a side of cappuccino!

Once in town - the airport is very close to the action so don’t spend more than AR$30 (about $10 USD) - we were amazed at just how big the city was.  To prove our point, we present to you the "Avenida 9 de Julio," a thoroughfare that is literally 16 lanes wide and one that carries porteños all the way through town!  (Just try crossing it when you are in a hurry... or rather, don’t!)  El Obelisco de Buenos Aires stands in the middle of the Plaza de la República along the avenue in the heart of the Microcentro.  The monument was erected in May of 1936 to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the first founding of the city.  Don’t miss it - not that it’s even possible!

Since we were happily located almost smack dab in the center of town while staying in the Retiro district, we were able to explore most of the city’s barrios on foot... though visitors should be warned.  The smog from car traffic in this town is so strong, you just may need a gas mask to get through it!  (Who ever said “Buenos Aires” = “good air?”)

Another option is public transportation, of which we succumbed to only three times... not that it was uncomfortable mind you.  In fact, with its “Subte,” Buenos Aires offers one of the most successful Metro systems we have ever utilized.  Although short on public art or a sense of humor, the trains were clean, reliable, and not too overcrowded, though we suspect rush hour is no picnic.  Overall, the Subte was the kind of system you can actually use, not just gawk at.

The Subte, which unfolded its tracks back in 1913, runs Monday through Saturday from 5:00 AM until only 10:00 PM and shortens its hours from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM on Sundays.  (How do all of those clubbers get to their homes in the suburbs?)  Single ticket prices for the Subte are AR$1.10 (a whopping 30 cents in USD); multiple trip cards do not offer better discounts though they do decrease time wasted in boletería queues.

Buenos Aires Subte -

the art of being prepared

Believe it or not, there are such things in the modern world as medicine to keep you well.  For some odd reason, we had forgotten this simple fact while vacationing in Buenos Aires after a three day stint in Brazil’s border town of Foz do Iguaçu... where we had apparently contracted the most evil of stomach bugs!

Perhaps it was the language barrier - or maybe just our stubborn nature - but it took over three days of suffering through horrible stomach aches, and feeling obligated to purchase Cokes every 10 minutes from local bars in exchange for their bathroom services, before we finally broke down and visited the nearest pharmacy.  Still slightly embarrassed, we browsed the shelves and passed by products like “Clight” - a pseudonym for “Crystal Light” - and “ASSY,” which sadly had nothing to do with our current predicament!

Finally, pointing to our stomachs and making outrageous noises to indicate our dire issues, the pharmacist instructed us to ingest little white pills of Imodium every time we felt the urge to run to the loo.  Within only a few hours, the magic pills had done the trick and we returned to what appeared like normality once again.  Even the intense heat of the Argentine summer no longer seemed so bad now that our stomach cramps had finally subsided!

To celebrate, we headed over to the much-touted Galería Bond Street to browse their assortment of eclectic secondhand record shops and vintage clothing stalls (see “goodies”).  Now it’s a little known fact that your Set of Drifter Brady has some issues with thrifting in general.  Though it’s arguably one of my favorite past-times, the proximity to vintage and/ or antique items that have been sifted through by thousands of unwashed paws usually sends signals to my bowels that require a quick trip to the toilet.  And thus, since we were already both in such a fragile state, it took no less than 15 minutes of flipping through dusty old South American discos before nature started calling... well, screaming actually.

After inquiring from the shopkeeper where the nearest men’s restroom was located, I raced up the hall and down the three flights of oddly decorative stairs.  (Of course, the only bathroom in this rundown edifice was in its gloomy basement!)  Once inside, I was treated to a scene not unlike those you might find in a bad student horror film.  The flickering florescent light barely illuminated the puke green tiled anteroom.  Attached to the walls were two or three sinks adorned with those metal prong things that attach to the basin itself and pierce grubby bars of soap into a fixed position in hopes of saving product.  Ay-yi-yi!

But there was no time for detailed descriptions.  You see, I had business to take care of, business which concluded no sooner than when I sat down on the porcelain throne which had perhaps not been cleaned since Perón had been in office!  (You can be assured there were no placards here detailing the cleaning schedule of this public abhorrence!)

Once finished, I reached for the... no, not possible.  The grungy Galería Bond Street had no toilet paper in its restroom?  Naturally... Okay, but how about one of those spiffy European douche hoses?  Uh, no such "luck."  Starting to run out of options, I tried not to panic.  After all, barring the possibility that someone would come into the unlocked baño at the most inopportune time, I could always just hop out into the front room with the sinks and grab some paper towels... uh, that is, if there were any paper towels!  Deep breath.

My next move was so shocking that I have rarely told anyone outside of a very close circle of friends.  Returning to the small room with the toilet, I ventured, unprotected, into the trash bin and located any remnants of tissue paper I could find.  Yes, anything would do, and anything did!  It was not a proud moment using someone else’s discarded toilet paper, yet it was a necessary one.

I returned to the anteroom, and those grubby little bars of soap attached to the sinks, and rubbed my hands (and forearms) all over them the best I could!  Since there were no paper towels, I would have to dry my limbs by shaking them through the air on my ascent back up to the record store where Doug was still waiting.

Since he declared that he, too, needed to use the restroom in question, I immediately grabbed Doug and took him outside the shop to reveal my trials and tribulations.  He laughed wholeheartedly, and rightfully so!  Remorsefully, the ironic punchline to this entire tragedy was yet to be uncovered.  Momentarily thereafter, Doug took the messenger bag that had been resting on my shoulder the entire time, and removed from its interior pocket, an unopened travel package of brand new tissue paper!

Yes, lessons were learned that day, ones that we will never forget.  When traveling to foreign climes, pack your Imodium - and keep tissue paper on hand at all times!  Live it, learn it, or be humiliated by it!

Set of Drifters tip:  Aside from Imodium, another option we took advantage of while in Buenos Aires was “Alikal,” a distant cousin of Alka-Seltzer that certainly gave us a boost after a long night of drinking!